Report: Cut Military retirement to pay for weapons

(MILITARY TIMES)   A new report from an independent think tank suggests that drastic cuts are needed in personnel benefits in order to pay for weapons modernization.

Some recommendations from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments might be welcomed by service members and their families, such as a proposal to cut the cost of permanent change-of-station moves by extending tour lengths by 50 percent.

But other recommendations strike at the heart of the military pay and benefits system. The report by Todd Harrison says the promise of retired pay after 20 years is an example of the generous benefits that led to financial problems in the auto industry, requiring a government bailout.

“Few employers today offer pensions and health care benefits for retirees, must less a package that becomes effective after only 20 years of service,” Harrison wrote. “Even GM’s much-derided labor contracts did not provide benefits this rich.”

Harrison said big reductions in benefits, such as requiring more service to earn retired pay and charging more for health benefits, are “politically difficult” but that modest changes, if begun soon, could help control costs.

Modest steps could include cutting Army and Marine Corps personnel levels as operations in Iraq and Afghanistan subside to reduce overhead costs as quickly as possible, the report said.

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments is a Washington-based independent, nonpartisan think tank focusing on national security issues.

“If the overall defense budget remains relatively flat over the coming years, continued increases in personnel-related costs will crowd out funding for acquisitions,” Harrison wrote. “Rather than accept this as inevitable, DoD should begin taking steps to rein in personnel costs.”

The report, called “Avoiding a DoD Bailout,” focuses on the financial choices facing the Pentagon if budgets remain relatively flat in the coming years. The fear that personnel-related costs could leave no money for weapons research and purchases is an issue already under study by the Defense Department.

Harrison said personnel cuts are not enough to take care of all of the budget pressures; the Defense Department also needs to be careful with weapons spending.

“The Pentagon must also rethink the types of weapons it is buying and how it buys them,” the report said.

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